Log Line

A Hollywood executive attempts to keep both his job as an influential player and the secret of a murder he has committed.

Overview

Medium: Film

Writer(s): Michael Tolkin

Director(s): Robert Altman

Production Co.(s): Avenue Pictures Productions; Spelling Entertainment; Addis Wechsler Pictures

Adapted from: The Player (Novel © 1988) by Michael Tolkin

In The Player, studio executive Griffin Mill begins receiving threatening postcards that he assumes are being sent by a screenwriter whose pitch he once rejected. To end the threats, he seeks out the screenwriter to offer him a scriptwriting deal in the hopes that the threats will cease. In the course of their meeting, a fight ensues and Griffin accidentally kills the screenwriter in a rage. From that point forward, he must keep secret the fact that he had done so—while also protecting (keeping) his studio job from an up-and-coming story executive and dealing with the continuing arrival of threatening postcards, whose author he had guessed incorrectly. And every step of the way, he demonstrates an affinity for self-interest and deception.

In a very clear sense, Griffin is a keep character and the condition of value that he attempts to keep is the preservation of the secret of what he has done (and his freedom, of course, which depends on keeping the secret). At the same time, he must attempt to keep his job and the status it affords him.

The proposition for The Player is similar in many respects to that of the film Swimming with Sharks in that involves the abandonment of moral conduct. It differs primarily with respect to its vector of intent and may be stated:

  • One should not attempt to keep a position of status at the cost of abandoning moral conduct, because success in the attempt will render the status hollow and worthy of contempt.

And as with Swimming with Sharks, we-the-audience are duly empowered to render judgment, because the storytellers call the court into session the moment the story starts.

In the end, Griffin succeeds in getting away with the murder and retaining the status (both in freedom and social power) that he sought to keep throughout. But as with Guy in Swimming with Sharks, his success offends our moral sensibilities and leaves us disappointed, because justice does not prevail. Consequently, The Player is a succeed/disappointed story.

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